The American Humane Certified label is somewhat meaningful and verified. While the American Humane Association says its standards aim to ensure the humane treatment and improve the welfare of farm animals, the requirements fall short in meeting consumer expectations for a “humane” label in many ways. Most Americans think that a “humane” label should mean that the animals had adequate living space (86%), went outdoors (78%) and were raised without cages (66%). The American Humane Certified standards do not always assure consumers that these basic requirements were met. For example, minimum space requirements are sometimes greater than the industry norm, but do not always allow for freedom of movement. Animals such as chickens, pigs and turkeys can be continually confined indoors; female pigs with their newborn piglets can even be confined in barren crates that do not allow the mother pig to turn around, much less engage in natural and instinctive nesting behaviors. For beef cattle and dairy cows, grazing on pasture is not required and feedlots are allowed.
What this label means
This label means that the animals were raised on farms that met the farm animal welfare standards of the American Humane Association. The American Humane Association told us that its farm animal welfare standards are “based on science, founded in the internationally accepted values of the Five Freedoms, and attainable in modern agricultural systems. Animals raised under American Humane Certified standards can sit, stand, turn around and extend their limbs. They are well cared for, with their own kind.”
The American Humane Association standards are based partially on the “Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare,” which include freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, freedom to express normal and natural behavior (e.g., accommodating for a chicken’s instinct to roost), and freedom from fear and distress.
However, in our analysis of the standards, we found many instances where standards do not require that living conditions and management practices ensure that even these basic “freedoms” are accommodated (in some cases, materials and conditions that allow animals to engage in natural behaviors are “strongly encouraged,” but not required). While the organization states that the standards require accommodating a chicken’s instinct to roost, for example, providing roosts is not required in the standards for chickens raised for slaughter. Other basic natural behaviors such as foraging for chickens, rooting and foraging for pigs, nest building for pregnant pigs, and grazing on pasture for beef cattle and dairy cows are not required to be accommodated.
A closer look at the standards for broilers (chicken)
A closer look at the standards for laying hens (eggs)
A closer look at the standards for pigs (pork)